Friday, April 30, 2010

Ruth St. Denis: Javanese Court Dancer

A posting on the SCUDD list revealed that some generous blogger has at last uploaded most of Phillip Baribault's short film 'Moments from Famous Dances' (Paramount, 1932-3) to youtube. This dance features several short solos by American dancer-choreographer Ruth St Denis, including 'Javanese Court Dancer’ (1926) with music by Clifford Vaughan. St Denis created this work in Singapore after a tour of Java sponsored by the Kunstkring. It is an American impression of serimpi.

Approximations to the traditional dance vocabulary, such as sembah, ukel and dolanan sondher, can be seen in the film, but as dancer and dance scholar Deena Burton notes the dance ends ‘with a pose most uncharacteristic of Java—Miss Ruth gracefully reclining and languidly tossing her sampur (the ubiquitous Javanese dance scarf) over her shoulder on the final gong.’ The court dancer’s obsequious final pose, with her gaze directed on the floor in utter humility and deference, is an act of obeisance to Orientalist stereotypes of the prone and vulnerable Asian dancing girl.

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